- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

Players in Washington politics during a presidential election year are casting about for a fall guy for the intelligence failures in the run up to the war against Iraq. Partisan politics aside, a fair and hefty share of accountability for Iraq intelligence shortcoming should be placed at the door of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO), which is responsible for recruiting and running spies to steal secrets that other states want to hide from American policy-makers.

Secretary of State Colin Powell spent endless hours atCIAheadquarters preparing his presentation to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003, where he cited human intelligence reports that Iraq was manufacturing biological weapons in mobile labs, but these reports have not panned out. Poor quality CIA human intelligence reports misinformed assessments that Iraq held large chemical and biological weapons stocks and was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program.

The DCI also passed along CIA human intelligence reports to President Bush about Saddam Hussein’s reported location that prompted the war’s start with an attempt to decapitate the Iraqi regime. Alas, Saddam’s captivity shows that CIA human intelligence again let the president down.

The DO, too, suffered from glaring shortcomings in quality of human reporting in the 1990-91 Gulf War. The memoirs of former Secretary of State James Baker and Commander of Central CommandNorman Schwarzkopf reveal flashes of frustration over the lack of human intelligence reporting coming out of Saddam’s regime. CIA human intelligence failed miserably at detecting the then-massive scopeofIraq’snuclear weapons program.

The DO’s failures in Iraq over the past 14 years is a manifestation of the CIA’s longstanding inability to produce human agents to report on the innermost workings of actors hostile to the United States, as well as those plotting courses at odds with American policy. The Joint House-Senate Commission that investigated the CIA’s failure to warn of the September 11 attacks found that the CIA suffered from an over reliance on the human intelligence sources from other intelligence services, while the CIA had little to no unilateral human agents deep inside al Qaeda. Adm. David Jeremiah, who led the investigation of CIA’s failure to warn policy-makers of India’s 1998 nuclear weapons detonation, found that CIA human intelligence there was seriously limited.

The DO, by the account of former DCI Robert Gates, failed to penetrate the inner workings of the Soviet Union’s political apparatus during the entire Cold War. Likewise, the DOfailedtopenetrate Moscow’s clients in North Vietnam and North Korea while the United States fought wars with each in the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, and was outwitted by East German and Cuban intelligence services that ran double agents against the DO for much of the Cold War.

The DO bureaucracy is set in its ways and operates in a rut created during the Cold War. It has no vested interest in instigating controversial reforms. In the past, internal reforms have amounted to little more than window dressing to appease the House and Senate oversight committees that approve the CIA budget. The DO is even resistant to DCI-directed changes, opting to wait them out and let any reform agendas fade away after a DCI departs from CIA headquarters.Although George Tenet has had a longer tenure at CIA than most of his predecessors, it is hard to discernanyrevolutionary changes he has implemented in the DO. In light of the poor showing in Iraq and failure to warn of the conspiracy of September 11, the often-heard CIA refrain to critics that “agency successes cannot be made public” is wearing thin.

But by looking back over the battlegrounds littered with CIA intelligence failures — in all of which the lack of accurate and reliable human intelligence reports were decisive contributing factors — it is clear that the DO has performed dismally against its core mission.

Despite the DO’s dismal (if not derelict) performances, it has escaped a sustained, rigorous and critical examination of its operations. It is long past time for investigating — perhaps under the auspices of the bipartisan commission to be unveiled by the White House this week — the origins of the DO’s systemic human intelligence collection failures.

The spy organization desperately needs to be set right because American policy-makers and citizens deserve better than the DO is delivering.

Richard L. Russell, a former CIA political-military analyst, is a professor at the National Defense University and an adjunct assistant professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. The views expressed are the author’s alone.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide